It is time to draw some lessons from the past and apply them now. One of the most important lessons concerns class and how many workers fail to act in their own interest. People increasingly appreciate that capitalism is the key problem of our time, but they see no solution that can overcome the limits of the present political discourse.
Ed Miliband not our friend. He is not our ally. He is not fighting for us. If there are two people and the first one of them is openly hostile, abuses you at every turn and is obviously working for interests diametrically opposed to your own, you would have to be crazy to consider them a friend. But if the other person keeps telling you that they are on your side, sympathises about how awful the first person is being, and says you should trust them instead – while all the while they are pursuing interests just as opposed to yours and will proceed to stab you in the back at the first opportunity – then who is your real friend? Neither of them is the answer, of course, though we can say that you are less likely to be deceived by the openly hostile one. The function performed by the Labour Party is always to appear as the benign friend to the workers in distinction to the “wicked” Tories. Hoping that the Labour Party will behave differently is an unrealistic – indeed utopian – expectation.
If our goal is the eradication of capitalism, then supporting the Labour Party is just completely delusional. The object of socialists is to assist in the emancipation of the workers from its enslavement to the capitalist class. To those who support the Labour Party we would appeal to reconsider their position. What does its boasted achievements amount to after all? With many on the Left calling for the re-formation of a Labour party, members of the Socialist Party ask "why bother?" In office and out, Labour is a party for capitalism. It is a party that has regularly and routinely acted against the working class. Yet we are constantly told not to give up hope. Every time an election comes round the different left wing groups tell us to vote Labour. Can Labour be changed? We think that its history proves the impossibility of changing Labour. Labour long ago gave up any pretence at wanting to get rid of capitalism.
The Labour Party has always tried to make capitalism work for the people. And every time that it has been in office, it has failed miserably to do so. The reason Labour – and indeed the Tories who also talk of a “people’s capitalism” – fail to make capitalism work for the people is that this is an impossible mission. Capitalism just cannot be made to work in the interest of all. It is a profit-making system that can only work as such, in the interest of those who live off profits.
The Labour Party has failed, so let’s start a new one. That’s what some trade unionists and lef-twingers are saying. But why? Surely one of the lessons we have learned has been that Labourism is a dead end. It can’t succeed. Not because its leaders are insincere or incompetent or corrupt or not resolute enough. It fails because it sets itself the impossible mission of trying to gradually reform capitalism into socialism. This can’t be done, as experience, not just theoretical understanding, has confirmed. The last thing that is needed today is a non-socialist, trade-union based “Labour” party. We have seen the past and it doesn’t work.
The Labour Party are simply a party of capitalist maintenance, with objectives of some form of new society being not just shunted into the background but completely out of existence. They are now more dedicated than ever to running with optimal efficiency the very system that creates poverty, misery, homelessness and war. As for those old Labourites who blame all on the mistakes of the past and present on certain leaders, this simply adds to the argument against leadership. In any case, the leader as a individual is irrelevant. Knocking one leader out of office and replacing them with another won’t change the system, and it’s the system that all attention should be focused on if we desire a radical change in the way we live. Trading one group of pro-capitalist apologists and careerist politicians for another can never be the answer. Changing society’s economic structure is the answer.
Labour Party reformists prefer to define class in terms of the unequal social distributions of wealth (rich versus poor) and/or power (rulers versus ruled) so they devote their efforts to equalise wealth disparity and democratise power. But they are blind to the most important aspect of class. This definition focuses precisely on production, on who produces and who gets the surplus, that is, the inequality separating those who produce the surplus value in society from those who take and live off the surplus value they did not help to produce. In slave systems of production, masters exploit slaves. In feudalism, lords exploit serfs. In capitalism, employers exploit workers. In the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc, state officials or party functionaries displaced private individuals (boards of directors elected by shareholders) as corporate employers. Yet by occupying precisely that position, state officials likewise exploit workers, hence the term, "state capitalism." Ending exploitation means changing and transforming social relations.